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Sebelius: People are "Frightened" by Insurance Rate Hikes

(The White House/ Pete Souza)
Updated at 1 p.m. ET

The White House is continuing its pushback against health insurance rate hikes, asking insurers to put their rate increase requests online, as well as the actuarial data that supports the rate hikes.

"The current situation is simply unsustainable," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today after meeting at the White House with the CEOs of five major insurance companies and leaders from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Sebelius said she was prompted to call for the meeting "in part by rate increases announced around country and the input that I've had from people across America who are really frightened that they're being priced out of the market, don't know what's coming next, want some information on what's happening."

President Obama attended the meeting as well.

Sebelius has led an aggressive effort from the White House to highlight the sky-rocketing insurance premiums facing consumers in numerous states. The push against the rate hikes was spurred by Anthem Blue Cross' plan to raise rates by as much as 39 percent in the individual market in California.

Insurers have insisted they are increasing rates because of increasing medical costs, a point Aetna CEO Ron Williams made at the top of today's meeting.

"We do things that don't need to be done in terms of paying for procedures and not paying for results," he said.

Sebelius has been skeptical, however. She said today on the CBS "Early Show" that she wanted to ask the insurance executives, "How can you file $12 billion worth of profits in 2009 and turn around and have jaw dropping increases driving more people out of the marketplace?"

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As part of his new proposal he wants to see pass Congress with or without Republican support, President Obama has proposed as a solution forming a federal health insurance rate authority.

Sandy Praeger, the Republican Kansas insurance commissioner, said at today's meeting that state regulators are in the best position to review rates. She said, however, not all state legislatures have granted their insurance commissioners authority to review and deny rate increases, and a "federal backstop" could encourage them to do so.

Sebelius said on the "Early Show" today that the president is pressing for quick action on health care reform not because of any congressional timetable, but because of the skyrocketing health insurance costs burdening the American people.

Mr. Obama is holding his own meetings with House members today to press for action. First he will meet with a group of legislators representing the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He will then meet with members of the business-minded New Democrat Coalition.

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